HC Deb 27 January 1994 vol 236 cc408-9
5. Mr. Devlin

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what role her scientific advisers play in developing more environmentally sensitive forms of farming.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

The science advisers in my Department and agencies play a key role in developing our policy on more environmentally sensitive forms of farming.

Mr. Devlin

In view of the welcome announcement of the biodiversity reports on Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend and her scientific advisers now set specific targets to aid the conservation of wildlife, which is dependent on farming?

Mrs. Shephard

The Government's biodiversity action plan has set broad targets for action; we have also announced a proposal to establish a biodiversity action plan steering group, which will include representatives of major conservation bodies. The group will advise the Government on the development of a range of environmental management policies. My Department will play a full part in the achievement of those targets.

Mr. Loyden

What advice is the Secretary of State currently receiving about the use of bovine somatotropin to improve the milk yield of dairy herds?

Mrs. Shephard

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the use of BST is currently subject to an EC moratorium of one year. We have urged the EC to take note of scientific advice, and also to profit from the lifting of the ban in the United States. The Commission will now be able to study the effect of that move.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, regardless of whether some of our upland areas are ESAs, there is an agreement, especially in national parks such as those in North York moors, not to overstock with sheep and cattle? Does she therefore agree that it is crucial that the differential created by the hill livestock compensatory allowance for farmers in those upland areas is maintained because without it they cannot farm, whether in environmentally sensitively or others?

Mrs. Shephard

We remain committed to HLCAs, but I remind my hon. Friend that 67,000 upland farmers will this year benefit from a total of £550 million in grants, which is quite some commitment.

Mr. Morley

Did the Minister's scientific advisers point out the importance of field margins in supporting plants and animal species? Is she aware that in the past 15 years nearly a quarter of all hedgerows have disappeared? Is she also aware that the biodiversity action plan contains no mention of a hedgerow protection Bill, although such a Bill was a Government manifesto commitment? Will she use her influence in the Cabinet to press for that manifesto commitment to be honoured, or is that to be yet another broken Tory promise?

Mrs. Shephard

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I try to use my influence in the Cabinet in a number of ways. As for field margins, the hon. Gentleman is expert in these matters so I am sure that it will not have escaped his notice that many of the ESA schemes, the number of which is of course shortly to be increased to 22, include the careful and sensitive use of field margins.

Mr. Paice

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that she talks to the Department of Health and takes the very best scientific advice before formulating new policies on farming and food? Does she agree that simply because modern technology means that we can detect the minutest traces of nitrates or pesticides, it does not automatically follow that such traces are bad for our health, and that we must have a sense of proportion in these matters?

Mrs. Shephard

We certainly work closely with the Department of Health on those matters. I am a firm advocate of common sense and old enough to remember the saying about "eating pecks of dirt before you die".